“Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters.” - E. E. Cummings
Poetry can bring us to tears, laughter, and other worlds in the space of a few lines. In verses, short or long, and structure, strict or free, words tumble out and distil any emotion.
World Poetry Day, 21 March, sets out to celebrate and enforce this age-old art form. The day was set by UNESCO in 1999 to bring to light what was seen as a dying craft.
But what is the current state of poetry? What do young poets think? And is it the ‘only thing that matters’?
I talk to a few up and coming poets and the Poetry Society, to see what the future of poetry is and how you can get involved in reading and writing.
According to them, poetry is ‘roaringly popular’. Founded in 1909 to promote the appreciation of poetry, to them every day is poetry day. Today they are launching a competition for young writers aged 11-17 – the Foyle Young Poets of the Year award. It sends poets to classrooms across the country to get younger people interested in the form.
They recommend their free anthologies written by young writers, as well as these great poets to try out:
Kaveh Akbar, Emily Berry, Ocean Vuong, Caroline Bird, Kayo Chingonyi, Megan Beech, Danez Smith, Mary Jean Chan, Hannah Lowe, Andrew McMillan, and Jay Bernard.
For the younger poets amongst us they recommend their online community, the Young Poets Network, for those under 25 – there you can find poems, writing advice, and other opportunities.
Bill Bostock, 23
Will is currently a journalism student with a belief that poetry is blossoming. Despite the doom and gloom proclaimed by others, he talks about the growing diversity of poetry and says that there’s ‘no such thing as too much poetry’.
So, what’s the future? Will highlights a modern trend of using traditional form with modern lexicon. He also recommends the Koestler Trust, which brings the works of offenders in the UK to the masses.
How did you start writing? ‘By being a bleak guy’, but seriously, ‘I wanted to be a novelist but didn’t have the attention span – poems are much easier to dip in and out of’.
Is it the only thing that matters? ‘It matters hugely – as all literature does. Poetry can evoke incredible power’.
Poem: The New ‘Old Colossus’
Caitlin HT, 27
Caitlin works at Survivors’ Network, a Rape Crisis Centre in Sussex, and writes poetry outside of work. With new developments in the form, she says it’s an exciting time for poetry.
So, where’s poetry at? ‘I’d say that poetry is going through a bit of a renaissance at the moment, especially when tied in with other creativity – we can see poets like Rupi Kaur combining her work with illustration, and there’s an ever increasing interest in spoken word poetry and the videos that go alongside that.’
Where to start? Button Poetry on YouTube and following poets on Twitter are great starting points, but the best place to discover new poets are at events like monthly poetry slams and open mic nights.
How did you start writing? ‘I was a massive book lover from a very young age so I think writing just naturally came along with that. Then when I was at college I started listening to and watching spoken word poetry online and that really changed the direction of my writing, I realised I could channel all of my anger and political frustration into the written and spoken word. I’ve been writing ever since!’
Is it the only thing that matters? ‘I wouldn’t say that poetry is the only thing that matters to everyone, but I can understand how it can feel like the only way to convey [your feelings] when words don’t come easily in other ways. I often manage to communicate big emotions much more eloquently when I put them into poetry, and I can share really personal journeys on a stage through verse that I might struggle to talk about one to one with someone. So in that respect I guess poetry is the only way for me to get what matters to me out there into the world.’
Poem: For Fucks Sake
Joanna Hagan-Young, 25
Joanna currently works full time as a chef alongside poetry and script-writing. For her there’s a bit of tension in poetry at the moment, caused by the growing forms and styles.
So, what’s the current state of poetry? ‘I think there’s a bit of a divide in poetry at the moment. There’s tensions between spoken word artists and those who focus on written word, and there’s some snobbery around newer outputs and “instagram poets” like Rupi Kaur, which I think is a real shame. Poetry is a great art form that different people enjoy and consume in different ways, and those differences should be celebrated rather than be cause for drama.’
How did you start writing? ‘It started with procrastination, like most of my writing does! World poetry day last year I was meant to be working on a script and needed a break. So I asked people to send me prompts all day, and realised I really enjoyed making poems out of random ideas. Then, later in the year, I set myself the challenge of writing a poem a day for a month and realised it was worth putting the time and energy into writing more poetry.’
Is it the only thing that matters? No – ‘Everything creative is worth doing, and I think every art form is equally valid.’
Poem: Wonderful Women